For most cow-calf producers, summer’s swing to fall means weaning time is just around the corner.
There is a checklist many producers follow, and at the top of the list should be a conversation with a veterinarian, says Julie Walker, Extension beef specialist with South Dakota State University.
“You need to plan those pre- weaning vaccinations,” Walker says. “Vaccinations need to be timed so you are getting the best immune response.”
Walker says most vaccinations are given around 30 days prior to weaning. Labels need to be read to make sure vaccines are being handled properly. She adds vaccinating calves stressed out during weaning may limit the effectiveness of the vaccine.
Calves should also be introduced to their new watering systems. Walker says calves that have done nothing but drink out of ponds and streams could have difficulty adjusting to a stock tank or any other system.
“The tank also needs to be the right height for the calf,” she says.
A visit to the weaning setup may also help, says Denise Schwab, Extension beef specialist with Iowa State University.
“I think it helps to walk calves through your facilities,” she says. “They’re going to handle it much better on the next trip.”
Many producers have gone to fenceline weaning, where cows and calves are separated by a hot wire and the separation is not as abrupt as pulling calves from the pasture.
“I would suggest leaving the calves in the pasture they are used to, rather than putting them in a new pasture right away,” Schwab says. “Make sure the electric wire is working and is a good quality wire.”
Some producers may be using what is called the two-step method — calves are removed for 24 hours, then taken back to their mothers.
“The actual weaning will seem much more familiar to the calves and shouldn’t be as stressful,” Schwab says.
Some producers also use nose clips to stop the calf from nursing. Calves can still eat and drink but cannot nurse, she says.
Walker suggests checking pens to make sure there are no sharp edges that could injure calves during weaning.
“They are stressed out enough without having to deal with a puncture or cut,” she says.
Some calves may hesitate to eat fermented feed or anything that does not smell like what they have been eating, Walker says. She suggests producers have good quality grass hay available for the calves to eat until they adjust to feed such as silage and distillers.
Walker says calves should also be weaned during a time frame when someone is available to keep an eye on them.
“You don’t to wean the calves and then just walk away,” she says. “Someone needs to be around to make sure they are eating and drinking, and to make sure they are adjusting to their new environment.”